Quick Guide to Retractable Awnings

Awning manufacturers have a shorthand jargon that succinctly describes their awnings’ characteristics, quality, function, even style. Knowledge is the key to having an efficient (and enjoyable) online shopping experience for retractable awnings. These simplified common terms can help you know in advance what you’re looking at, so you know how to find what you want.

Terms: Parts

A lateral arm retractable awning is an awning which can be rolled up and closed; unlike fixed awnings and canopies, a retractable awning has no support posts. A retractable awning has an intrinsically simple design:

o Frame – the skeleton of the awning; the frame is comprised of the mounting bar, arms, and roller tube.

o Mounting bar – the base of the retractable awning which is mounted in place; when the awning is retracted, the awning fabric rolls around the roller tube attached to the mounting bar.

o Arms – the part of the frame which folds closed at the elbow when the awning is retracted (rolls in) and opens when the awning is extended (rolls out).

o Shoulder – the joints on the retractable awning arms where arms attach to the mounting bar.

o Front bar – the extrusion at the very front of the awning frame.

o Hood – a cover which fits over the retractable awning frame and fabric; when the awning is fully retracted, the hood protects the exposed fabric, frame, and motor from the elements.

o Valance – a strip of fabric, usually a few inches high, which hangs from the front bar of the retractable awning.

o Rib – the cross bars of the frame which support the awning fabric. Not every awning style has ribs, since ribs are often used to create a shape to the awning frame; for example, lateral arm retractable awnings don’t have any ribs.

o Canopy – an elongated, dome, or waterfall style retractable awning

There are dozens of styles of retractable awnings, determined mainly by the frame shape:

o Lateral arm awning – the most common, and oldest, retractable awning style, consisting simply of two or more arms, the front bar, mounting bar and the fabric. This is the most popular style for homes and commercial buildings; this is also the most scalable style, extending (projecting) as far as 17 feet without external supports.

o Dome – an awning with curved ribs, which forms a rounded shape when fully extended; these tend to have a significantly shorter extension (projection) than lateral arm awnings, extending only about five feet out maximum from the mount point. An elongated dome can have a longer projection than a standard dome style, almost double. Dome awnings are common for commercial properties and for window and door awnings.

o Drop screen – a kind of retractable awning which is mounted vertically so it extends downward. This style of awning has the mounting bar and fabric, but no arms since it simply “drops” down. This is mainly used to screen patios, gazebos, and other outdoor areas from glare, heat, rain, UV rays, direct sun, mosquitoes, and pollen.

There are also dozens of different accessories for retractable awnings which make them easier to operate. A couple of common ones:

o Anemometer – a device which monitors wind speed; this is used with wind sensors.

o Sensors – devices which monitor different atmospheric conditions and trigger the motor to retract or extend the awning accordingly; there are four major kinds of sensors, including sun (light) sensors, wind sensors, rain sensors, and motion sensors (which monitor movements, such as wind gusts)

o Motor – a device which automatically moves the awning; motors are enclosed in the roller tube.

Terms: Materials

The retractable awning materials are the true indicator of quality – because the kind of materials used translates into quality, not the expense of the materials. For the fabric, there are two major categories of fabrics:

o Canvas – a natural fiber (cotton) woven fabric; canvas awnings are prone to fade, mildew, and rot.

o Solution-dyed acrylic – a man-made fiber which is woven into a lightweight, breathable fabric; because it is a chemical polymer, the fabric cannot rot. Solution-dyed means that the pigments are included in the fiber solution, which makes the fabric highly fade resistant.

For the frame, the important materials are the body and joints:

o Electrostatically powder-coated aluminum – a metal frame which is lightweight, durable, and rust-resistant; powder-coating is a method of applying pigment to aluminum frames which is extremely difficult to flake off or damage, unlike enamel or paint.

o PVC – a hard polymer also used to make plumbing pipes; this tends to be brittle.

o Kevlar® – the polymer used to make bulletproof vests; Kevlar® straps in the arms instead of cables are extremely strong and durable and can’t rust.

o Cables – braided metal strands which are used in the arms; these are usually steel, which rusts, leading the cables to discolor the fabric and eventually break. Cables cannot be replaced because they are internal to the arm and inaccessible.

Terms: Installation

Understanding a few terms about the positioning and installation of the awning can help determine the appropriate size and installation location for your awning:

o Mount – what way or location the awning is affixed to the home or building, such as a wall mount, eave mount, soffit, or roof mount.

o Pitch – the angle that the awning comes down from the mount point to the front bar. Some lateral arm retractable awnings have an adjustable pitch.

o Projection – how far out from the wall the awning can extend.

o Load – the stress put on the awning, from wind, snow, even the weight of the awning itself (dead load). Good quality retractable awnings can sustain wind speeds up to approximately 35mph

o Pooling – water buildup on the canopy which can cause the fabric to sag and stretch.